A New Congress Means a New Opportunity for Getting Involved

By Jennifer Keaton

Although spring is always a busy time in Washington, D.C., it is especially true this year with new representatives and senators learning the ropes in Congress and confirmation hearings for the President’s Cabinet nominees.  Many familiar faces remain both on Capitol Hill and in the executive branch, but it is more important than ever to bring the message of the zoo and aquarium community to lawmakers.  

While much of the government affairs work happens in Washington, D.C., this effort relies on the participation of all zoo and aquarium professionals.  This year the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) government affairs agenda will increasingly focus on opportunities for all of you to get involved from home.  Relationships can be formed and strengthened with legislators just as well during a visit to a zoo or aquarium as they can in a Capitol Hill office.

You also can meet with your representative and senators in their district and state offices.  The Legislative Education Center at the AZA website (www.congressweb.com/cweb2/index.cfm/siteid/aza) has valuable tips for setting up a meeting with your representative and senators including:  

  • Call the state or district office and ask for the scheduler or appointment secretary. You should also ask for the name and contact information of the legislative aide working on your issues. Explain your purpose and whom you represent. Be clear about any sense of urgency (budget, appropriations, legislation coming up, etc.) It is easier for congressional staff to arrange a meeting if they know exactly what you wish to discuss, whom you will be bringing with you, and why you think the Member of Congress will be interested.
  • Fax or e-mail both the scheduler and the advisor or aide working on your issue.  Be sure to follow up a few days later.
  • After the meeting has been scheduled, forward any background materials to the Member of Congress’ office with a cover letter restating the time and purpose of the meeting.
  • Call the day before the meeting to confirm. This also will give you the opportunity to confirm who else will be in attendance.
  • After the meeting, be sure to send a follow-up note thanking the Member of Congress/staff for their time and summarizing the salient points of the meeting

The Legislative Education Center features a sample letter for you to use to set up a meeting as well as information about the Congressional Zoo and Aquarium Caucus, the latest AZA Federal Update, and Zoo and Aquarium News, a quarterly electronic newsletter sent to congressional staff.  Be sure to check the Legislative Education Center regularly for additional government affairs information. 

 Stand Up for Zoos and Aquariums Campaign Update

 The AZA initiated a Stand Up for Zoos and Aquariums campaign in late 2010 in response to provisions in the 2009 federal stimulus legislation passed by Congress which barred zoos, aquariums, and other entities from eligibility for funds under the act.  This campaign has resulted in an expanded presence on both Capitol Hill and in the agencies on behalf of the accredited zoo and aquarium community. 

A few of the initiatives of the Stand Up for Zoos and Aquariums campaign in 2011 and 2012 include:


  • Twenty-eight bipartisan senators cosponsored S. Res. 132, a resolution introduced by Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) honoring and recognizing the nation’s zoos and aquariums.  S. Res. 132 unanimously passed the Senate in November 2011.
  • AZA sponsored three legislative fly-ins and participated in the American Alliance of Museums fly-ins including as a co-convenor in 2012.  AZA also participated in the Teaming With Wildlife fly-ins and several other wildlife-focused fly-ins.  The 2011 and 2012 AZA receptions honored congressional champions with the “Standing Tall for Zoos and Aquariums” Award, a tradition which will continue in the future.
  • The Congressional Zoo and Aquarium Caucus expanded from sixty-three members to ninety-three members and added two co-chairs for a total of four.  
  • Dr. Jackie Ogden, vice president animal, science and the environment at Walt Disney Resorts, Dr. Paul Boyle, AZA’s senior vice president of conservation, and Jennifer Keaton, AZA’s vice president of congressional affairs participated in the White House Summit on Environmental Education.  The summit brought together individuals representing a wide range of groups actively working to promote environmental education across the country.  
  • AZA sponsored three congressional briefings and worked with the International Conservation Caucus Foundation on one regarding the illegal trafficking of rhino horns.
  • Zoo and Aquarium News, an e-newsletter, is sent to all congressional environment staffers four times a year.  
  • The AZA Legislative Education Center featured action alerts on issues including the Multinational Species Conservation Funds, postal reform, the “National Bison Legacy Act,” Prescott funding, and S. Res. 132.
  • AZA government affairs staff worked with congressional offices which sponsored legislation about issues including great apes, big cats, traveling circuses, and invasive species.  
  • AZA staff collaborated with the Conservation Education Committee to conduct a survey of educators to obtain statistics for use in a handout for Hill offices.
  • AZA commissioned an economic impact study by Dr. Stephen Fuller (George Mason University) which found that AZA zoos and aquariums generate more than $16 billion economic activity and employ 142,000 workers.

While much work has already been done on behalf of accredited zoos and aquariums, 2013 will be another busy year in Washington, D.C.  To learn more or to get involved with government affairs, please contact Jennifer Keaton ( jkeaton@aza.org), Steve Olson ( solson@aza.org), or the AZA Government Affairs Committee.

Jennifer Keaton is AZA’s Vice President of Congressional Affairs